By Lot Chitakasha
Since their formation in 1926, Highlanders Football Club have made a massive contribution to the development of football in Zimbabwe. In the process, they have built up a huge fan base which might be concentrated in the Matabeleland region but if the truth be said also cuts across the length and breadth of the nation and even spills over to neighbouring South Africa.
The fans boast that “ Highlanders ithimu lizwe lonke…Highlanders is the nation’s team” , a boast which has an element of truth in it. They love their team and they come in all forms and shapes, the good, the bad and the ugly but it is my contention that the good stand out.
In their 91 years of history, the club has collected numerous league titles and trophies. The post- independence period has been very fruitful indeed. They have won 7 league titles but since 2006, the league title has been elusive. Many reasons have been advanced to explain this anomaly, for indeed, a team like Highlanders cannot spend 11 years without winning the league. It is too much for the modern supporter to take. Something is not right and I seek to identify that.
At the beginning of the 2017 season, I tipped Highlanders to win the league. I premised my argument on the fact that they seemed to have retained their core squad. The coach was now more experienced after one year of working in the league. At a time when their rivals Dynamos were emerging from the ill-fated experiment with Portuguese gaffer Silva, Highlanders appeared like an oasis of stability.
How wrong I was? Things began to unravel as the season progressed, the players seemed to lose interest, the fans focused more on what they viewed as unjust decisions against their team. The “Asifuni Imbumbulu, We do not want nonsense” slogan became toxic and distracted them from giving what the team needed most on match day. Unwavering support! In the end it turned out to be a very disappointing season, they indeed flattered to deceive.
Along the way, something strange happened, something I never envisaged would ever happen to this proud club. Highlanders had to rely on a benefactor Longwe Ndlovu to bring in Rodrick Mutuma to score the goals for them. He was a hired hand, brought in sorely to do a job for the team. The interesting part is that it was not the club that negotiated the transfer and the terms of the transfer. It was the businessman who offered the rented player to the club.
Here is the interesting part. According to Fortune Mbele writing for The Standard, the player was sold a pie in the air or in football parlance, a dummy. Most of the terms of the agreement were not met and before long, the player became disillusioned and packed his bags back to Harare.
The benefactor who had promised the player $3000 as signing on fees only paid $1 200 which came in batches according to Mutuma’s manager Carlos Tavengwa.
As if to rub it in, “The Prince” as Mutuma is known in football circles actually donated what remained of the remaining wages and signing on fees to Highlanders FC. I hope the benefactor will honour that part of the bargain for he claims to love the club so much.
I know a thing or two about benefactors after my reading of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. They often seek vicarious self fulfilment as the portrayal of characters such as Miss Havisham and Magwitch can attest. Now I do not know this gentleman who brought the player all the way from Harare to Bulawayo and donated him to Bosso.
But why did he do it, why rent a player for a club you profess to love and then not pay him? Dear reader, we are talking here about a great institution, a club rooted in history, a club which has produced many great players, a club which has blessed us with perhaps one of the greatest footballers to wear the Zimbabwe Warriors shirt, one Peter Ndlovu.
Why would such a club rely on a benefactor who does not honour his part of the bargain. I am puzzled. This is definitely is not the Highlanders way. The great club’s humiliation was compounded when their former son Methembe Ndlovu who owns Bantu Rovers FC unleashed a mere 15 year old to confront them in a league match at Barbourfields Stadium.
The boy Sibusiso Moyo is still developing physically, he has not yet built enough muscle to mix it up with the big boys of the league. I do not think Methembe expected the boy to have a game changing performance, I think his introduction was largely symbolic.
It was a slap in the face of this great club, a timely reminder on what they have lost, their junior structures which used to produce quality players. A wake up call, it was as if Methembe was saying, “What happened, now you rely on benefactors to bring players for you, where is your pride?”
The Highlanders of old had a massive production line of junior players. Who can forget Peter, Adam Ndlovu, Benjamin Nkonjera, Willard Khumalo, Mercedes Sibanda, Netsai Moyo, Honour Gombami…the list goes on and on. These were players who had the DNA of the club in them, players who wore their hearts on the sleeves of that iconic black and white shirt.
I remember very good young players who had to move to other teams because the competition was stiff. Ronnie “Jeans” Jowa and Nqobizitshe “The Jackal, Mutongi Gava” Maenzanise come to mind. This is all gone and although the juniors are still there, they no longer have the same impact. They have produced some notable players, Knox Mtizwa and Teenage Habede (who later joined Bantu Rovers) but it is fair to say the production has stalled. What happened?
Many other incidences also happened during the course of the season.
The public spat between assistant coaches Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu and Amin Soma Phiri brought unwanted attention to the club. The case of the flag waving seemingly xenophobic supporter was highlighted in the press. The coach Akbay gave excuses after excuses. In the end, the atmosphere surrounding the club was not the most inspiring.
It was not all gloom and doom though. One positive happened, the team scored one of the best goals of the season when they played Triangle FC in a league match. It was a team goal, from back to front, nine players touched the ball until …you guessed right , The Prince buried it home with his head. It was the highlight of his short stint at the club.
But such moments were rare when they should be the norm. You might be wondering, how does the song by the great Lovemore Majaivana fit into this narrative? I will be brief, for brevity is the soul of wit.
The club seems to have lost its pride. Legend Tobias Mudyambanje, a man who could change a match in the twinkling of an eye had this to say, “During our days, if we lost a match, we would not be found in pubs drinking , walking around town, having a good time. We waited impatiently for the next match to make amends. In matches, we never knew when we were beaten…these days , we give up easily..”
He said it all here, a wounded Highlanders was a dangerous Highlanders, that fighting spirit is gone.
This is the crux of the matter, pride. Playing the song Tshilamoya will inspire the players. Being reminded of those legends of old will motivate the youngsters, it will jerk the executives off their warm seats. This might sound simplistic but do they not say, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication?
Bosso must rediscover their pride! Their football pride!